Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hash Race

I decide to participate in a foot race organized by the Juba chapter of the International Hash House Harriers. Hash members refer to themselves as a "drinking club with a running problem." The goal is to run a little and then drink a lot of beer. There are Hash clubs in nearly every major city on every continent.

The meeting spot for this Hash is at a hotel called Asante just down the dirt road and on the other side of one of the few tarmac roads from my company's residential compound. It is the first time that I venture alone on foot outside my concrete-walled, iron-gated, razor-wired, 24-hour guarded residence. I am a little nervous. There is much emphasis on protection of expats here, though no one I've queried so far is readily able to remember any expats ever getting hurt in Juba. What do I know? I've only been here for a week, I feel I should have a little fear.

The guy in charge of organizing this race is called Fucktard. Hashers are christened with a nickname and then drowned in beer upon completion of their fifth race. There are about 40 of us milling about in the hotel's open courtyard. Lanky Scandinavians, Brits, Americans and Canadians, and Africans from different neighboring countries - Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia.

I understand why our leader is called Fucktard as soon as he opens his mouth. He impatiently gathers us in a large circle around himself and demands to know if there are any first-time Hashers present. I can guess what's coming but step forward anyway, along with a young Dutch woman in grey sweatpants, two skinny young African women, and a stocky British guy. Fucktard makes each of us tell the group our name, what brought us to Juba, what country we're from, and why we are at the Hash. He tells the British guy that he looks dumb and expresses doubt that he can successfully answer all the questions. He skips over one of the young African women because she does not speak English. My guess is that Fucktard gets punched in the face a lot when out drinking.

We start the race. The trail is marked ahead of time by a pair of pre-ordained "hares" whose job is nominally to lead but also to confuse Hashers with the occasional false trail. Eager competitive types are penalized in the race - if they are the first to reach a spot on the trail marked with a chalk circle, they must run to the back of the pack, find the slowest runner and tag them. This is designed to keep slow runners from becoming demoralized or lonely, and to keep fast runners working harder than everyone else.

One of my reasons for running this race is to get out of the protected compound environment and see what Juba streets look like. The trail takes us down pitted, rutted dirt roads, copper-brown sandy soil with deep mud puddles filling in the car and truck tracks. Bamboo, tin and mud shacks on either side of us; small goats in tall weeds; dogs, ducks and chickens. There is also a huge amount of trash everywhere. The government does not have the trash system figured out yet. Piles of it are everywhere, some burning, filling the air with a not unpleasant smokiness. There are flattened plastic water bottles, flattened aluminum soda cans, shards of ripped up plastic shopping bags EVERYWHERE, bottle tops and blown-out sandals and shoes in the streets.

Tall people (the Dinka and Nuer tribes people are among the tallest people in the world) turn to watch our strange assortment of mostly white people running in a pack through their neighborhoods. It occurs to me that one of the few times that locals will see expats out on the streets by themselves is during the Hash races, and how odd it must seem, with the two Hares in the lead shouting "On-On!" repeatedly, women in tights, guys with floppy hats and shorts splashing through mud puddles, stopping to examine chalk signs in the road, running this way and that.

We are regarded with a mix of amusement and interest. Children are the most curious - many of them run along with us barefoot shouting "Morning! Morning!" and squealing - they can tell something fun is going on. I can't stop myself from shouting "Morning! Morning!" back to them, looking back at them, waving and giving lots of thumbs up signs. It isn't morning, but "Morning!" has become a standard greeting by local kids to Westerners here.

We run through a subdivision of shacks - grids marked out by cut up tree fences, some empty grassy lots. There is some house building going on out here. A man is running power tools with a generator, working so hard he doesn't even look up to see 40 foreigners running down the muddy street in front of his home. Not much flora or fauna to describe. Papaya trees, acacia trees, jacarandas. I am surprised to see no vegetable plots. One one fence I see a dusty loofa vine. Ditches filled with muddy trashy water. There is no public water system and a very spotty, limited electric grid. Pit latrines and boreholes with handpumps for water. There is a campaign to stop people from defecating in the open.

I finish in third place, behind the two hares. The run was about five miles, and I am rewarded with a warm Tusker beer, brewed in Kenya. Fucktard gathers us up again and commences some drinking games that involve singing and require me and the other new Hashers to stand in the middle of the circle and answer more questions. I chit chat with a Canadian woman and talk to someone who runs a group called Confident Children Out of Conflict; they run a day center for homeless kids here. They are looking for sponsors for kids who want to go to school but can't afford it.

I jog back to the compound and settle in again in my womb like environment.


  1. I can't wait to hear what nickname they choose for you!

  2. What a phenomenon - a bunch of lily white folk running and drinking through Africa. If they really thought about it, they might be offended.

    Glad you're having fun! Already more of a social life than me.